BU Law alum shares her passion for social justice.
From the death penalty and human trafficking to poverty and discrimination, many Boston University School of Law alumni are called to work for change, making big impacts in the public sector, government, and nonprofit worlds. The inspiration to serve in these areas arises from many places. For a number of these alumni, the passion for social justice is informed by their experience in law school.
For our most recent Record alumni magazine, BU Law sat down with four alumni to discuss their law school experiences and what led them to public service. We highlight here our conversation with Jennifer Serafyn (’01), assistant US attorney for the District of Massachusetts and head of the Civil Rights Enforcement team.
Jennifer Serafyn says that her initial interest in public service work came from her parents. Her father is from Poland and served in the US Marine Corps. Her mother came from Cuba and taught English as a second language. As for an interest in criminal law and litigation, she jokes that it might have come from watching TV as a kid. “I watched a lot of actual trials on TV and I was drawn to the prosecutors. I thought being a lawyer was a worthy career.”
At BU Law, she explored public interest options on both the civil and criminal side. A summer internship at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights gave her a taste of civil litigation. “I worked on employment discrimination cases and color of law violations. I also helped with systemic work in terms of looking at data and statistics to see if hiring practices in an organization were skewed on race or gender. It was an eye-opening summer and it sparked an interest in civil rights work,” she says.
Serafyn also participated in the Criminal Law Clinic. “It was an amazing experience that helped me discover that I wanted to be a trial lawyer and I wanted to work for the government and serve the public.” After graduation, Serafyn’s goal was to work at the US Attorney’s Office, but she knew she needed more experience before that was feasible. So she sought to get as much trial experience as possible to become a more attractive candidate. Starting at a law firm in New Jersey, she focused on general commercial litigation before joining a firm in Boston, where she worked on employment litigation cases.
“About seven years after graduation, I joined the US Attorney’s Office in the Civil Division in Boston, which is where I still work today,” she says. As an assistant US attorney, Serafyn initially worked on a wide range of cases that involved issues like the civil commitment of sexually dangerous persons under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, the False Claims Act, the Federal Tort Claims Act, and the Freedom of Information Act. “I was a generalist; I got into court frequently, and I learned a lot,” she says.
Over time, Serafyn began to do more civil rights work and joined the office’s newly created Civil Rights Enforcement team in 2010. “Last February, [former] US Attorney Carmen Ortiz created a new unit within the Civil Division that focuses on civil rights and she named me chief of that new unit,” she says. The new Civil Rights Unit focuses on areas such as enforcing the laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, gender, religion, and disability; enforcing education and fair housing laws; and protecting the employment rights of service members—to name a few.
“It’s passion-driven work and we can make a big impact,” she says, noting that she’s especially proud of a recently settled case involving the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and the unit’s ongoing investigation of the racial climate at Boston Latin School. Serafyn says that BU Law also helped her discover a passion for teaching, as she began a legal research and writing class for first-year law students in 2004 and more recently has been giving a seminar on government lawyering.
“My mom was a teacher for 40 years, so it’s probably always been in my blood,” she says, adding that the seminar requires students to work in a federal or state agency so they can see in action the theoretical issues discussed in class. “BU Law helped me figure out the kind of lawyer I wanted to be and showed me options for making a difference in people’s lives,” she says. “It feels good to give back and help current students discover their own career interests.”
This feature originally appeared in The Record, BU Law’s alumni magazine. Read the full issue here.